Herman Miller Materials Program Automation

In April, 2009, Herman Miller launched the Herman Miller Materials Program, a collection of over 1,600 materials organized in 16 volumes. The Materials Program was developed by Michael McGinn Design Office (MMDO).

Working with MMDO over a period of several months in 2008, I created a desktop application to automate the production of the thousands of printer mechanicals and review and sign-off sheets that were used to support the efficient print production of the volumes.

Swatch layout uses Kohonen self-organizing maps (SOM).

The software:

  • Accessed a database of materials specifications and product images.
  • Read in templates created in Adobe Illustrator.
  • Filled in product specifications and other text, reflowing when necessary.
  • Generated product matrices.
  • Applied appropriate legal copy and specification marks.
  • Wrote out production-ready mechanicals as CMYK PDFs.
  • Layout logic was coded as plug-in scripts run by the application.

A major component of the Materials Program are the swatch books. MMDO wanted a layout that organized the swatches somehow, either by color or value, but there wasn’t a single system that could be applied consistently to all materials. The swatch books had to have a playful and engaging quality that  would be appealing to designers.

I developed a solution using a self-organizing map (SOM) that created a 2D layout from multidimensional color vectors derived from each material swatch. SOMs use stochastic sampling and simulated annealing to find one energy-minimizing solution among many.

The software interface allows the PDF automation to be run by MMDO staff. Swatch page configurations can be generated and reviewed in the application and support manual drag-and-drop adjustments when the designer thinks its necessary.

This project’s template-based workflow is based on my SuperGraphics framework. This software allows SVG templates to be read into a DOM, modified, and output in a number of formats. SuperGraphics has advanced text handling features such as font and glyph metrics and word wrap with hyphenation.

Review sheet.

Review sheet.

Swatch book review sheet.

Printer's mechanical.

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